How Do Prison Inmate Calls Work?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: November 18, 2022

I can’t think of anything more important to a prison inmate than communication with their loved ones in the outside world. Whether it was through letters, emails, visits, or phone calls—there was nothing more important to me when I was in prison than being able to talk to my family and friends. 

Communicating with a prison inmate when you are in the free world can be quite difficult—you can’t just make a phone call or send a text. When it comes to the world of prison phone calls—just how do those prison inmate calls work?

In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Can you call a prison inmate?
  • How does a prison inmate call you?
  • When can an inmate call?
  • Why can’t an inmate place a phone call?
  • What happens if you call a jail number back?

Can you call a prison inmate?

As a general rule, you can’t call a prison inmate. You definitely can’t call them directly. However, some facilities do have a procedure that allows you to call and leave a message with the facility chaplain or counselor if there is a family emergency. 

In those types of cases, you can call to leave a message and the prison inmate will call you back through the prison phone system or through the chaplain or counselor’s phone.

How does a prison inmate call you?

All correctional facilities—jails, prisons, and ICE detention centers—have an inmate phone system that allows inmates to call friends and family members for a fee. That fee can be as low as three cents per minute, or as high as a dollar per minute. It just depends on the facility, the specific system that they have, and the fee schedule they’ve agreed to.

Phones are placed throughout the housing units—usually outside of cells, in common areas—and inmates have access to those phones during certain times to place outgoing calls.

Oftentimes, the lines for the phones are extremely long and you have to wait your turn. Because of the high demand on phone time, most calls from a jail or prison will be limited to about 15 minutes.

One of the most commonly used correctional phone companies is Securus, which will provide a facility with phones and tablets for the inmates to use. All inmate phone calls are collect calls. Companies like Securus usually offer two different types of payment options: a prepaid option and a debit option. 

The prepaid option allows friends and family members to open a phone account and load it with money. Then, when the inmate calls your number, the amount of the phone call will be deducted from the amount you have in your prepaid account. Using this method will only allow the inmate to call your phone number, and no one else.

The debit option allows you to add money to an inmate’s phone account, and then they can use that cash to make phone calls to anyone they wish to call. 

Many facilities also allow inmates to purchase phone cards from the commissary to make calls, so there is no need for prepaid or debit phone accounts.

When can an inmate call?

Every jail and prison has their own rules for inmate calling hours. Usually, inmates are allowed to make calls during the day between 7 am and 10 pm. Those hours vary, based on the facility. 

In my experience, the phones were turned on after the morning count was cleared, which was usually around 6:30 or 7:00 am. They didn’t turn off until around 10:30 at night. The only times we weren’t allowed to access the phones during daylight hours was when there was a count or an emergency lockdown.

Why can’t an inmate place a phone call?

Depending on the facility, inmates may have a limited call list which only allows them to call a handful of people—usually family members, friends, clergy, or lawyers. If this is the case, the inmate will not be allowed to place a phone call to someone who isn’t on their approved list.

Inmates aren’t allowed to place calls to their victims, or anyone else who was involved in their case. And, as I said earlier, an inmate can’t place a call during a lockdown or count time.

Another reason why an inmate couldn’t place a phone call is if they don’t have money in their phone account, don’t have a phone card, or the person they want to call doesn’t have a prepaid phone account.

Inmates who are in administrative segregation, which means they are being punished for something, usually don’t have access to phones and can’t make calls.

What happens if you call a jail number back?

The answer to this question depends on the facility and the number. If it is a number that shows up on your caller ID via an inmate call, chances are that when you call the number back, you will be either directed to the main number of the phone company providing the service, or you will be connected to a main phone number at the jail. There’s also the possibility that absolutely nothing will happen, you’ll get a fast busy signal or be automatically disconnected.

If you call a jail number back, there is zero chance that an inmate will pick up and answer. 

What’s your experience with prison inmate calls? Do you prefer the prepaid account option or the debit option? Let us know in the comments below.


Securus Technologies
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